ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City officials fear Alpharetta may be in the crosshairs of a commuting nightmare if they don’t have a say in how bus rapid transit is set up along Ga. 400.
They also say they’re concerned about feeder traffic along Webb Bridge Road and nearby streets, where the DOT plans to provide direct access ramps for express lane traffic.
The Georgia DOT is in the environmental phase of a $1.8 billion plan to add two express lanes in each direction along 12 miles of Ga. 400 from I-285 north to McFarland Parkway in Forsyth County. As part of that project, MARTA plans to operate rapid transit bus service along the route.
At a meeting June 17, members of the City Council drilled MARTA and Georgia DOT officials about the impact on city streets from commuters seeking access to the express lane interchange just north of Webb Bridge Road and to any of the three bus transit stations planned within the city.
Councilman Jason Binder said the direct access point to the express lanes, called Webb+, is likely to affect traffic along several city streets, including Cumming and Academy streets, Westside Parkway and Webb Bridge Road — mostly with residential developments. He said he suspects the DOT’s preliminary study predicting a minimal traffic impact on Webb Bridge Road is because the street is already near capacity.
“Is it already a cup full of water, and us adding more is just going to continue to overflow?” Binder asked.
GDOT officials conceded the street’s current overcapacity was a factor in the calculation.
Tim Matthews, program manager for GDOT’s Major Mobility Investment Program, said the early estimates do not include the detailed analysis required to make accurate traffic projections for the impact the access ramps and bus stations will have on surrounding streets.
But, he added, GDOT is in the midst of conducting environmental studies where that information will be gathered. He said the draft environmental document, including refined traffic impact estimates, should be completed by next summer at which time there will be public meetings for city officials and residents to ask questions and offer suggestions.
Councilman Donald Mitchell told MARTA officials he was concerned about plans for bus transit stations within the city.
As plans stand now, the service is proposing two in-line stations along Ga. 400: one at North Point Mall and one just south of Old Milton Parkway. There is also a direct connection (or bridge flyover) to the existing MARTA Park and Ride facility on Windward Parkway.
Mitchell said he worries the Windward facility will become inundated with Forsyth County commuters catching bus service south into Atlanta.
Emily Ritzler, project consultant with WSP USA, which is working with MARTA Planning, said they also are in the early stages of preparing ridership studies to determine how much the buses will be used. Coupled with the new traffic impact studies, she said, the agency will be able to present a clearer picture of how the areas around stations will be affected.
Right now, Ritzler said, MARTA is looking at modifying the Windward facility, but it hasn’t determined the scope of those changes. She said Forsyth County is not in the MARTA system, so there are no discussions underway to extend the service north out of Alpharetta.
The metropolitan transit service estimates bringing rapid transit bus service to the 12-mile corridor will cost about $312 to $414 million. So far, the effort has received $100 million in funding from the state. Another $100 million is being sought in federal money, and the remainder could come from a transportation sales tax or bonds, Ritzler said.
Mayor Jim Gilvin said he wants MARTA to consider how its rapid transit bus service can benefit Alpharetta residents, particularly if they’re being asked to help fund it.
“If you’re bringing us a plan, we need some evidence it’s going to help us, not hurt us,” Gilvin said. “I understand we’re a region, and we’re critical to what happens transportation-wise in the region, but there’s only so much pain we intend to endure.”
The mayor also encouraged both agencies to keep residents informed of developments and listen to concerns.
“Please understand that we’ve got a lot of people paying a lot of attention,” Gilvin said. “So, the more time you can give us to have public input once we have that data, the better off we’ll all be.”